Online Learning Innovation Fund

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The Online Learning Innovation Fund is a national initiative launched in June 2009 in England (a home nation of the UK) funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

The details are in a Press release of 23 June 2009 from the UK government.

There is an updated announcement, dated 24 November 2009, on the HEFCE web site. This contains some changes of emphasis and a longer list of members of the Task Force.

Planning phase

A new task force to ensure that UK "universities become the first choice across the world for on-line distance learning" was announced today by the Higher Education Minister within DBIS.

The task force will advise on a wider strategy to build on past and present UK track record in this area and ensure that the UK does not lose pace on increased demand in expanding and new markets.

The task force will be chaired by the Chief Executive of the British Library. Also on it will be a senior manager from Microsoft and also the new Vice-Chancellor of the UKOU (who formerly was at Microsoft). The team will be rounded out by delegates from Apple, the British Council, HEFCE, JISC and Universities UK. The BBC has agreed to advise the task force as and when appropriate.

The task force will be backed by a new Open Learning Innovation Fund aimed at helping universities build on their existing reputations to access and engage future markets. The markets are expected to have a value of around £15 bn in the future.

Delivery phase

After the strategy is clarfied, there will be a delivery phase with a competitive match funding initiative, with up to £10m from HEFCE. Under rules common in the UK this implies there there are funds to deploy on projects worth up to £20m in total.

Universities will be encouraged to work collaboratively with each other, the private sector and the third sector (voluntary agencies), to bid for money to develop projects to help transform the way people can get a degree.

The Minister envisages that some of the iniatives will utilise 3G, webcasts and web 2.0 on a global basis, and noted the usual advantages of mobile technologies.

The Online Learning Innovation Fund could help groups of institutions to pursue new business opportunities and promote online learning including using open resources funded as part of the JISC OER e-learning programme. Universities will also be able to develop greater expertise in on-line teaching and create centres of excellence for the delivery of online learning

The wider strategy will broadly;

  • Develop new plans for international marketing of on-line distance UK HE;
  • Continue to promote the development of e-learning across the breadth of HE;
  • Work to increase the quantity of learning resources freely available for all institutions to use
  • Continue to develop the role of the UK Open University (UKOU) as a national resource, so that all universities can benefit from the UKOU's specialist expertise, developed through public funding.

HEFCE will develop the Open Learning Innovation Fund in the light of the task force's advice and then consult the sector on the practical details.

Previous initiatives

The Online Learning Innovation Fund continues the tradition of earlier online learning initiatives in England, some with a more campus-based focus, others with more focus on distance learning. These include:

There have also been smaller initiatives in Wales and Scotland including:

Competitive initiatives

Perhaps not directly competitive, but a much larger initiative, is the Community Colleges Online programme in the US, with a budget of $500 million. This covers two-year colleges and perhaps to some extent schools, but not universities (at this stage).

Nothing is known of reaction from other countries especially Commonwealth ones.

Distance learning

The UK government estimates that Britain currently attracts more than 100,000 students from around the globe and earns some £200m in fees.

An interim report on distance learning in the UK can be found at United Kingdom - distance learning


The first commentary (other than a recycling of the press release in full) can be found from Derek Morrison at

Editor's Note

It is not the policy of Re.ViCa to comment on new developments day by day - the wiki is not a blog. Our role at present is to place these in the broader European and global context. Thus consideration of this new UK national initiative will be built into the project reports being prepared now and in the next few months.

We have earlier hypothesised that "Europe is tired of national initiatives". There is a strong element of truth in this for the majority of countries in northern and western Europe, and far-west Europe - but in the UK, Italy and some eastern European countries it is clearly not the case - as the UK has once again just shown.

Consultation and Responses to it

An update on the work of the Online Learning Task Force was published by HEFCE on 29 March 2010. This asked institutions and other organisations to make responses. There are many responses but few are public yet.

The response from Re.ViCa is Response from Re.ViCa to the Online Learning Task Force.

The response from the UK Association for Learning Technology (ALT) is at

There is a useful blog posting at

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